Trump budget faces criticism, indifference from some Senate Republicans

PHOTO: Sen. Mike Enzi makes his way to the Republican senate luncheon in the Capitol, Jan. 4, 2016. PlayTom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images
WATCH White House unveils budget proposal

Many Republican senators who weren’t outright condemning President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget made sure to acknowledge a universal truth of budgeting in Washington: The spending bills Congress eventually passes don’t always bear much resemblance to the president’s list of priorities.

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“We'll be taking into account what the president's recommending, but it will not be determinative in every respect,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters Tuesday.

In written statements, several other Senate Republicans asserted Congress’ lead role in government spending, emphasizing that the White House can suggest spending but that it’s the Capitol that has the final say.

“We will take a close look at his budget, but Congress is mandated by the Constitution with key spending responsibilities and will ultimately decide what the nation’s fiscal priorities will be,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, said.

“The president proposes and Congress disposes. Congress has the power of the purse strings. I’ve never seen a president’s budget proposal not revised substantially,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said.

“The president's budget request is always subject to significant revision by Congress, and this budget will be no exception. Throughout my time in the Senate, I have never seen a president's budget make it through Congress unchanged,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, added.

Trump’s first budget proposal to Congress includes $1.7 trillion in entitlement spending cuts over 10 years, including $800 billion from Medicaid and other benefits programs. It also includes a boost to military spending, $25 billion over 10 years for a paid family leave proposal spearheaded by Ivanka Trump and $1 billion for border wall construction. Foreign aid, except for Israel and Egypt, also takes a hit.

Some foreign policy-minded senators decried the president’s proposed cuts to diplomatic programs.

“This budget, if fully implemented, would cause us to retreat from the world diplomatically or put people at risk. You have a lot of 'Benghazis' in the making if this thing becomes law,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, known for his hawkish stances, said Trump wasn’t proposing enough additional funding for the military to amount to a buildup, calling it “inadequate to the challenges we face, illegal under current law, and part of an overall budget proposal that is dead on arrival in Congress.”

McCain called the budget “illegal” because it exceeds spending caps set up in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which led to across-the-board spending cuts to most federal agencies and programs.

Just as most presidents’ budgets are more reflections of their policy priorities than documents they expect to get turned into law, so too are some senators’ criticisms as much about provincial concerns rather than sweeping critiques of presidential policies.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, called the budget “anti-Nevada” for its proposed funding to re-start the development of a nuclear waste depository on top of Yucca Mountain in his state.

And Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, criticized the proposal’s cuts to programs that fund restoration projects for his state’s coastline.

“Our state’s future depends on this funding to rebuild our coastline. However, this budget is a guideline; Congress must now hold hearings and do the necessary work to ensure the bill protects American taxpayers and families.”

Past presidents from both parties have also come under friendly fire for including provisions in their budgets that weren’t universally praised. Former President Barack Obama was panned by liberal Democrats for seeking changes to the way Social Security payments are calculated.

Plus not all Senate Republicans criticized Trump’s budget proposal. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the party whip, praised its broad strokes.

“I think it’s worth pointing out several aspects of the president's budget that are encouraging and a welcome change from the previous administration. For one, it balances in 10 years,” Cornyn said. “The president's budget reflects a better understanding of the threat environment ahead, and for that I am grateful.”

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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